Transforming Photographs into a Digital Catalogue

A Study of Two Museums and Their Collections.


  • Mariusz Gąsior Stowarzyszenie Miłośników Ziemi Tarnogórskiej



Imperial War Museum London, Muzeum Śląskie w Katowicach, The Silesian Museum in Katowice, Digitisation, Photography, Photographic collections, Online catalogue, Curator, Digital exhibition, Bond of Sacrifice, Q Series, Online search engine


In this article I focus on three aspects of the digitisation of photographic collections which I have had the opportunity to deal with professionally in two museums, in the UK and Poland.  In 2014, the Imperial War Museum in London (IMW) implemented an online project of the portal/monument, Lives of the First World War, commemorating all citizens of the British Commonwealth who took part in the First World War (WWI), both in uniform and in civil services. Users registered on the portal could attach documents, photographs, reports to each commemorated soldier-keyword, thus expanding the database. One of the key elements of the project was a collection of portrait photographs bearing the title Bond of Sacrifice. These comprised over 16,000 photographs of soldiers of the British Commonwealth, handed over to the Museum by their families in the years 1917–1919. After nearly a hundred years, the Museum decided to comprehensively develop, digitize, and make the collection available in the form of an online catalogue. In the meantime, the Museum digitised a huge collection of WWI photographs, the so-called Q Series (ca. 115,000), the most important part of which was British official photography. By 2016, the entire collection was scanned and made available in an external catalogue of the Museum on the basis of a non-commercial license.  Since then, the photographs have taken on a life of their own: they are used in academic works, press articles, TV productions, and in social medias. The second project includes numerous photographs of the Polish Armed Forces. This phenomenon is dealt with in the second part of this paper, which discusses the online photographic collection of the Silesian Museum in Katowice. The third and final part of this article is devoted to the impact of digitization and on-line accessibility on the making of temporary exhibitions. This is explained using the example of the author’s last exhibition at the museum about women in industry; based entirely on digital reproductions of photographs from the collections of many museums from Europe and the U.S., amongst others the US National Archives and the IWM. This is due to the fact that the author selected the entire material with the use of online catalogues of these very institutions.


Gaynor, Kavanagh (1988): “Museum as Memorial: The Origins of the Imperial War Museum”, Journal of Contemporary History, 23:1, 77–97. DOI:

Carmichael, Jane (1989): First World War Photographers, London and New York: Routledge.






Digital Heritage In Cultural Conflicts